Ahead of the curve

Features - Irrigation

Paul Morgan was practicing natural landscapes before they were popular.

May 1, 2013
Lindsey Getz
One of Morgan’s projects has raised beds for wheelchair access and is irrigated with rainwater.

In 1984, when Paul Morgan started a natural landscape business that put an emphasis on sustainable landscapes, the service wasn’t very popular around the country. Morgan Landscape Co., based in Atlanta, was known for working with the land, Morgan says, and ultimately grew into a second company, the RainHarvest Co., that would focus solely on water management and reuse.

Rain Harvesting and Beyond. At the time the company was founded, the idea of rain harvesting was brand new in the States, though it had been done in places like Australia for decades.

In 1999, the RainHarvest Co. put in its first residential system, garnering the company a lot of press and even some television airtime. But Morgan says that rainwater harvesting isn’t by any means a cut-and dry-business. Even the very best system is at the mercy of the weather.

“If it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t work and that can be a problem,” Morgan says. “I’m always clear about that fact up front because I don’t want my clients to be disappointed after investing a lot of money into a system that runs dry.”

Morgan says he has turned down work that wasn’t in the best interest of his clients. Simply put, if there is a drought, the system is not going to work. “I never want clients to invest in a system that they’re unhappy with,” he continues. “Negative referrals go a lot further than positive ones. If I believe the system is going to cost more than the client can recover, I tell them – even if it means lost work.

“That’s really important. Many of my clients have been with me upwards of 20 years. We want that long-term relationship and the referrals and getting those means being honest and even turning down work from time to time if it’s in the client’s best interest.” That’s why Morgan, and his business partner James King, began to get involved with other forms of water reclamation and reuse in addition to storm water management.

When working on a property, Morgan says his ultimate goal is to create a truly hydrological cycle. With a Water ReUse System, gray water (non-septic water) is collected from the household and filtered below the surface and directly into the root zones of the property’s trees, shrubs, and turf. “In a truly hydrological system, we would capture rainwater that can be purified and filtered for use both indoors and outdoors,” Morgan says.

“But we’d also capture laundry water and bath water to be recycled for other non-potable end uses such as irrigation or flushing toilets. The idea is that no water is wasted.” Reusing water saves homeowners from purchasing potable drinking water from the local municipality and also decreases the burden placed on the local sewer system or the residential septic system.

Besides adding value to the community, a system like this can also save homeowners money, and Morgan says that the increasing cost of water has helped drive more business for him.

But Morgan says that one reason a lot of residential homeowners may shy away from the idea is a belief that it will have a major impact on the way they live.

A cistern is one method of rainwater harvesting that Morgan offers.

However, he sees it differently. “I believe that when a home is properly plumbed that even prudent water use is not going to have an impact on their lifestyle,” Morgan says. “With the right system, they will be able to get off the grid, remain sustainable, but not have to sacrifice the way they live or the water they use.

“It comes down to smart planning. Just like a budget, water use needs to be balanced.”

Of the many recent projects worth noting, the LEED Platinum Southface Eco Office project included a 14,000-gallon underground cistern, which collects water from nearly the entire site and re-uses it for irrigation and sewage conveyance. In total, the company has worked on nine LEED projects in the past five years.

A better tomorrow. The importance of creating smart water use systems has driven the RainHarvest Co. to the point where it’s Morgan’s primary business. The landscaping company is no longer his bread and butter, though he says he still does enjoy doing a smart landscape design that works with the land, as opposed to against it.

When the opportunity presents itself, he will still do design and build work, but his focus right now is on water management. Of course, he says, the two businesses complement each other nicely.

“You can’t have a nice landscape without water,” Morgan says. “But when we do a landscape, we ultimately want something that can be weaned off regular watering except for the vegetables and maybe annuals and perennials.

“My feeling is that if you have plant material that needs regular watering, perhaps it wasn’t chosen properly or was put in the wrong place.”

While Morgan wants to make a living and provide jobs through his business, he says what’s really driving the company is his passion for water conservation. “That’s why we’re in the business,” he says. “We do a lot of speaking opportunities and lunch and learns with engineers and architects – and we push water conservation.

“We’re called to be good stewards of the resources God gave us or else we can’t expect our next generations to have plentiful water resources. That’s what really drives us. I want my grandchildren to have a big beautiful vegetable garden and not to have to worry about water bans because we used it all up. We have to be good stewards of our resources.”


3 tips for getting paid

It can be a challenge, but here are steps to make it easier to get your money.

Paul Morgan of the RainHarvest Co. in Atlanta, admits that getting paid is always a challenge that comes with the industry. As the owner of a business that does a lot of work with general contractors, he says he knows it’s part of the job. But over the years, he has found that the following three tips have made getting paid a little bit easier.

Get it signed. No matter how small the job, a verbal agreement is never good enough on its own. Make sure you create a thorough contract that gets signed. “Always have a contract that is signed by all stakeholders with very clear terms prior to beginning any work or making purchases,” Morgan says. “In your contract you should make notes that if the final payment is going to be delayed beyond 30 days from completion, that you will automatically file a mechanics lien to protect your investment.”

Create a schedule. The payment schedule is a critical component of your agreement, Morgan says. “Have an explicit payment schedule defined, agreed to, and signed by all stakeholders,” he says. “Our schedule is based on our performance. Make sure that upon substantial completion of the project, only 10 percent of the total price remains on the table.”

Invoice in advance. Invoice for each phase prior to beginning that phase, Morgan says. “This eliminates delays that will result in waiting for the client to process the request after you have already completed the work.”


Photos courtesy of Rainharvest Co.